News

The German Olympiad of Linguistics (DOL)

Last weekend, we had the last round of the German Olympiad of Linguistics (it’s really the selection of the German teams to the International Olympiad of Linguistics, but that’s even more verbose). Designing that last set of puzzles in time hasn’t been easy, but I had awesome support from my colleagues Ruben Van de Vijver and Johanna Mattissen, who gave me very nice datasets for the construction of puzzles from Dutch and Nivkh. My student Alina Schünemann with her friend Augusta Ogechi Chukwu designed a wonderful puzzle on Igbo. And my student assistants tried and tested them. If you think you can best the high school students who cracked these puzzles in well below two hours (and if your German is sufficient), you can try your hand at them (solutions to follow soon).

More resources on Chinese

For my class on the structure of Chinese, I wanted to give my students some accessible resources so they can make their own observations. To that end, I translated and glossed some texts. Among them are the lyrics to one song, as described here earlier. In addition, I processed two literary texts this way (with translations to German, glosses in English). One is the beginning of Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman”, a paranoid, Kafkaesque and brilliant text. For this one, I took the time to add two levels of glosses, one with literal morpheme-by-morpheme translations, one with the lexicalized meanings of multi-character words. The other one is the beginning of “Brothers” by Yu Hua.

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Syntactic Recursion

In the MA program, I taught a class on syntactic recursion during the winter term 2020/21. This is a topic that I have studied quite extensively before, and it features prominently in several past and ongoing grant proposals. I also think it’s an important and interesting topic that touches several fundamental debates in linguistics. I’m quite happy with the selection of texts we ended up discussing and the overall format. You can find my syllabus here.

Daakaka grammar class

One of the wonderful features of the linguistics curriculum at HHU are the obligatory classes on structures of non-Indoeuropean languages. They take 4 hours per week, instead of the regular 2, and I’m looking forward to teaching them on a regular basis. For the winter term of 2020/21, I taught a class on Daakaka. I’m quite happy with how it turned out, and so were my students. In the future, I’ll have to put more work into creating coherence. I might have gone a little wild with all the great tools one can explore during practice sessions. The syllabus can be found here. Since this was an online class, I also created short video lectures, some of which can be found here. If you want access to the full class on Moodle, or have comments or questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Exploring linguistic typology through language puzzles

In this class, we solve a linguistic puzzle each week, primarily from the International Olympiad of Linguistics. Topics include writing systems, number systems, verbal morphology, kinship systems, and others. I first taught this class in the winter of 2020/21. You can use my syllabus for inspiration, if you’d like to try this out. My students loved the class and so did I. Since this was a distant-learning class, I also prepared short video lectures for each session. You can watch some of them at the HHU mediathek. I will definitely teach this class again, probably with varying sets of puzzles.

Lyrics for Chinese class

Update: I did get great feedback on the lyrics by Charles Yang, who commented on exactly those places I was uneasy about. I updated the translation and am now finally getting around to uploading my homepage. You’ll find the revised translation under the link below. For more glossed texts, also see this post.

I’ll be posting a lot more about teaching here, since that is the current focus of my work. A most wonderful feature of the Düsseldorf curriculum are the classes on grammars of non-Indo-European languages, which take two sessions per week, rather than the usual one. This semester, I’ve been teaching Daakaka, and it’s been an intensely gratifying experience, on which I’ll certainly post more later. Right now, I’m planning a class on Mandarin Chinese for the summer term, and I decided to dedicate part of it to the worship of a song that I absolutely adore. It’s by the band 二手玫瑰 (èrshǒu méigui, Second Hand Rose), and I would translate it as “Let the artists get rich and their wealth trickle down”. The title is based on a quote by Deng Xiaoping, who said, basically, not everyone had to get rich at the same time, it was ok if a few people got rich first and passed on some of their wealth to their neighbours. I have glossed and translated the lyrics, take a look if you’re interested, and please let me know if you have more information about the song!

AFLA 2020

I’m very excited about this year’s AFLA 2020. The organizers are doing a fantastic job at hosting it online. You can see the program and download all the slides here. There is also a youtube channel where all the talks have been posted. I haven’t been able to see all talks live so far, due to different time zones, but I have been very impressed with the quality of those talks that I have seen. It’s definitely worth taking a look. I used my slot to work on my greater narrative about how Oceanic languages can change our understanding about the relation between tense and modality, and between time and reality.

The German Olympic Linguists

I should have gotten around to this earlier, but here goes: Together with my colleagues at ZAS, Nathalie Topaj and André Meinunger, I organized the selection of the German team for the International Olympiad of Linguistics again this year, even though there it won’t take place this year.There is a short report on the ZAS homepage.

We have always been dealing with scarce resources, but this year, of course, also had to figure in the pandemic. We held all three rounds of competitions online. I missed talking to the students in present. Even so, I think we all had great fun with the puzzles. I had lots of help from colleagues in designing the puzzles, in particular Qiang Xia, Johanna Kimmerl, Christian Döhler and Sebastian Nordhoff, so we ended up with a fantastic range of languages and phenomena. I’m planning to make all puzzles accessible to the public eventually.

Out now: Expressing possibility in two Oceanic languages

We can often choose between more basic, highly grammaticalized, ways to express a given meaning, and more verbose ways of doing so. Thus, in English, we may say “Brenda can catch the train” or “it is possible that Brenda will catch the train”, with quite similar interpretations. In my article with Anna Margetts, we argue that expressions of possibility in Daakaka and Saliba-Logea correspond to it is possible that in terms of their syntactic complexity, but to can in terms of their paradigmatic properties, frequencies and meaning. Look at the publication here or download the preprint.